Flying with Your Infant

IMG_1435When my first child was born, my husband and I lived several hours by air from most of our family. We wanted to take advantage of my short maternity leave and visit with our new arrival, and to be honest we were pretty nervous. We were experienced travelers, but a baby seemed to open a whole new can of worms.

We weren’t alone. It seemed that all of my new mom friends asked the same questions: When can I travel with an infant, and what do I need to do it?

First off, assuming a healthy infant, you can fly pretty much right away with your new baby. For us, our pediatrician said anytime after two weeks would be fine to fly. My personal advice is to yourself a little time to heal from the labor and delivery and also to get acquainted with the mechanics of taking care of a newborn.

Another consideration for some families is obtaining a passport for your newborn. If your child was born overseas or your destination is, you will need to apply for one. The U.S. State Department’s website lines out everything you need to know about the process. Keep in mind, you will need both parents present to apply for a minor child. Getting the baby’s passport photo taken is a bit of a gymnastic endeavor as no part of you can be visible in the shot (this task gets slightly easier once your child can hold his head up on his own). Finally, keep in mind that a child passport is only good for five years (which makes sense when you see your 5-year-old’s nearly expired passport photo down the road). The turnaround time varies; where I live in Japan, we are lucky to have a U.S. Consulate nearby and their turnaround time is two to three weeks. Other processing offices can be busier and therefore have longer processing times.

Once you have tickets and any necessary documents and are preparing to fly, it can get really easy to go overboard on what you decide to take along. Typically, domestic airlines allow a diaper bag, stroller, and car seat to be either checked or gate-checked for free, for even a lap infant. This is in addition to everything you are able to check and carry-on. Double check with your particular airline though, as things change frequently (and rules are different for different locations and airlines as well). Some airlines are now restricting large jogging strollers, so if you’re bringing a stroller pay extra attention to any size or weight restrictions. No matter what you decide you need, just remember you need to be physically able to transport all of this gear and your baby.

There are lots of great packing lists floating around for traveling with an infant. Many sites have information tailored specifically to breastfeeding moms. Check a few lists and then write up your own list of must-haves for your flight. Remember that the TSA allows you to carry on liquids for your baby, including breast milk and a breast pump, but if you bring them be sure to plan a little extra time through the security screening. The agents will ask you to separate these items and will then take one parent with them for additional screening. You may also want to let the agent scanning your bags know you have a breast pump (if you are carrying it on); I once got a pretty shocked reaction from a young man who seemed very suspicious seeing an electric box with tubing and wires go through.

Finally, I know that price is often a prime deciding factor when purchasing tickets. If you have a few similarly priced options to choose from though, not all airlines are created equal. When traveling both domestic and international, some airlines will go out of their way to help families with infants, which will definitely make your life easier.

Meaghan Howard is a mom to two little boys, ages 3 and 6. Shes currently enjoying the expat life in Japan.




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